24 November 2008

Reflections on "Reflections..."

I am reading (or trying to read in the midst of finals chaos) this phenomenal book called "Waiting for God" by Simone Weil right now. Her insight into how we approach God and our relationship to him in the midst of this crazy world is proving to be vital in my search to understand and develop my own perspective and worldview. One essay I read was called "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.” I have already read it twice. Here are my reflections on "reflections"...
Everything I do is an exercise in paying attention. From the books I read as a student of literature, to the dates I memorize as a student of history, to the theories I thoughtfully consider as a student of critical thought. But it is not only in my studies that I am practicing attentiveness. Every day, in the aspects of my life that I choose to devote my time to, I am learning how to pay attention. It is what I choose to pay attention to in which the question of my heart lies. Do I pay attention to that which will feed my soul or do I simply spend my time with things that are convenient and easy? Then the question arises: will my perspective of the world ultimately by dictated by what I pay attention to as well? Of course it will be! My worldview is created by the countless episodes of Friends that I watch just as much as it is created by the books of Christian apologetics and history and philosophy that I read.

I must learn to understand that every action is part of the greater whole of my understanding of the world.

“When we write, we draw the shape of the letter on paper, not with a view to the shape, but with a view to the idea we want to express.” I do not write letters on a piece of paper in order to express the letter, but to express the idea. The end goal is the idea…but the means to this end must first begin with my knowledge of basic principles like the alphabet and phonetics. In everything that I learn, I must realize that although it may not seem like it directly affects my life, in the end it will all contribute to the whole that creates my worldview. So I must constantly be striving to pay attention. I love that idea, by the way! Such a great analogy (the letter in the word on the page makes the story) for a pretty complex thought!

But what does it mean to truly pay attention? In my desire to learn how to do this, I have to remember two things. Firstly, too often, I do not pay attention as intently as I think I do. I am not paying attention, only “concentrating on nothing.” Simone Weil writes, “We often expend this kind of muscular effort [instead of true attentiveness] on our studies. As it ends by making us tired, we have the impression that we have been working. That is an illusion. Tiredness has nothing to do with work.” Even if I enter into the act of paying attention (to what I am studying, what I am doing, or what I am praying) with good intentions, this act produces no end except my own exhaustion.

Secondly, and probably more difficult, I have to learn how to let go of expectations and assumptions about what I should be thinking or feeling or learning. I always go into thigns expecting to get something out of it; assuming that I will leave with some specific goal accomplished. It kind of relates to Gregory Bateson’s idea of purpose driven thinking. He writes that because we have gotten so used to a formulaic way of thinking (A+B=C), we have missed all the answers and truth that goes into the formula. If I always have an end goal of what I want to learn or know or grow in, it is so easy to miss what God is trying to do. I love it when Weil writes “The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.” So often I miss all the wisdom that can come out of an experience because I have gotten so used to going straight to the solution, while not always paying attention to how I got there. There is wisdom in the journey, not just the answer right?

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